In a September 10 Wall Street Journal article (available only to WSJ online subscribers), NOLA Media Group president Ricky Mathews revealed some key details, details that no one in the Times-Picayune’s new management structure has so far seen fit to share with its readers in the T-P itself or on the NOLA.com website.
According to the Journal article, “Print ad sales fell 23% in 2009, 10% in 2010, 7% in 2011 and 10% so far in 2012.” That amounts to a compound decline of 42% in less than four years. Here’s how the math works (it’s the percentages that are meaningful in this illustration, not the dollar amounts):
A decline of that magnitude would force any business to try to reshape its future. By moving to a digital-first strategy, NOLA Media Group is betting that growth in online advertising revenue will mitigate the loss in print ad revenue, which has traditionally been the greatest source of revenue for the vast majority of U.S. newspapers. According to the article, Mathews says that “the share of ad revenue that [currently] comes from online is bigger than the industry average of 13.5%,” and his goal “is to be at [a] 50/50 split between print and digital revenues within five years”.
But it is difficult to see how that goal will be achieved, since the article also says that “Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism* found in March that the newspaper industry was losing $7 in print advertising revenue for every $1 it was gaining in digital ads.” NOLA Media Group will have to buck that trend big time in order for both the print and online versions of the paper to survive, and given the widespread and continuing criticism of NOLA.com and how poorly it compares to other online news sites, there is no guarantee that it will be able to do so.
* The full Pew report can be found here.